A true and accurate expression of being a student of echo location and flash sonar.


A true and accurate expression of being a student of echo location and flash sonar.

 

Created and written by

Cathy Egan 2014

 

My personal experience with flash sonar was indeed, very mixed.
When I first started using flash sonar, I was so overwhelmed, with  the fact  that I could actually, hear objects of any description. The experience was really quite strange, to say the least. When I think about it for the first time, it was similar to   unlocking, a whole new world for me. It also reminded me of   a key unlocking  a door that had been really jammed shut all my entire life.


As  I had come from a nearly, fully cited world, the transitional period  is and I believe will remain a constant ever-changing, puzzle ready  to be unravelled and revealed of my environment.


Like I said before, my experiences have been mixed. At first I must admit, I felt strange and really weird  making clicking noises. Mainly due to my lack of self confidence and my concern of drawing more attention to myself, particularly in the eyes of the  public. When I think about it, how silly is that? I mean, honestly, the truth is, I believe that the general public is already drawn to looking at my white cane and  that's the reality as I have experienced it. This happens I believe for many reasons. The general public in my opinion don't seem to notice my clicking, so much, honestly. They seem to be too busy doing their own thing which is fine or they don't even  hear my clicking. This is due to the fact that depending on my  environment and what I'm seeking out of it depends on how loud or soft my click sounds. However my long white cane is very obvious to them and they see that quite clearly and this is what makes me stand out or make me a little bit different to mainstream, which is no big deal to me anymore.

 

 Don't get me wrong it's vitally important I use the long white cane. However once I got over the psychological hurdle of my own personal feelings regarding my public perception.  It wasn't long before I considered clicking as a normal thing to be doing.  In some ways a natural thing for me to do. I seriously think this was due to the fact that the benefits of finding objects and discovering landscapes was so exhilarating and mind blowing for me. I mean who would've thought this form of mobility was possible I mean really? It certainly out wade any strangeness or odd feelings that I was experiencing at the time and I could see the potential for freedom.


When I tell people, about my vision deterioration which to me is not 100% blindness I have to be honest. It's rather that I see colours and blobs only  very  close up to me, whilst at all times being extremely blurry. Quite often my vision doesn't even make sense to me  as it can be so distorted.  Oh and yes, if there happens to be any glare around I virtually see nothing but extreme brightness and glare. So when I share  my story, I  quite often  feel like I'm telling somebody else's story. I somehow feel detached  but not quite. As time goes on that feeling is subsiding greatly and it's  becoming a lot more real for me. 


I suppose, it's the initial shock, of everything, in the beginning and as time goes by, I  learned to slowly accept my vision loss.
One thing that was massively, outstanding for me, was my  overwhelming, fear of losing my independence. Believe me, when I tell you this my fear was absolutely real to me at the time and a whole bunch of negative thoughts came into mind. I think  seriously I went into panic mode. So now I had discovered or rather decided to face my fear.  I had a possibility of overcoming this through a new technique for myself, that being echolocation and flash sonar.


I had made a profound decision in my life, in fact it was, I believe, a true, turning point for me, that's for sure. I had decided, no matter what, to study, learn and live the life of somebody that was using echolocation and flash sonar.
Don't get me wrong of course, I was still using my long white cane, which is paramount for safety, particularly with drop-offs. However the long white cane does have its limits. The cane cannot offer you a sightseeing experience of your environment. Nor can it give you Information beyond the length of the cane.


Indeed this is the magic that echolocation and flash sonar can offer. Flash sonar can and does fill in the missing pictures for me. When I am walking through my environment, it's  rather like putting jigsaw puzzle pieces  together to create an image of my  entire environment. In other words I don't miss out on anything, unless I choose to.

 

It's funny when I think about it, a simple thing like having a choice of how much one takes in of their environment is for me so in powering. It's my choice as to how much I see what is around me by clicking or not. I think this is what I consider my true freedom my empowerment, my choice.

 

Many people say to me "you see  with your ears, so what is it you actually see?"

At first, I had to stop and really think about this question, as it's not such an easy question to answer. 

 

My severe vision loss has happened only so recently, in fact, just over 12 months ago. Which to me has turned out to be  extremely beneficial and useful to me, you may find it strange that I'm saying this. However it's  mainly due to the fact that it allows me to draw on my memories library which is still so very vivid and clear to me. I'm  extremely grateful for that. I am able to  remember   what things should and do look like so clearly.

When I hear the denseness of a trunk of a tree for instance and the vastness of the branches and it's  leaves, I can image, quite quickly and clearly in my minds eye and recall what a tree would look like from drawing on my memory.

The reality is my image in my minds eye may not be the exact image  in front of me such as the colour of the tree, however, the rest of the image will be very close to reality. If I am close enough to an object then sometimes the rest of the picture can be  filled in with  the use of my other senses. By using my  sense of touch to feel the texture of the object etc or use my sense of smell to define the picture even further. In other words I draw on all my other skills that I have learnt for mobility and for adjusting to a new way of life. So now this allows me to have a range of clues to draw on, to produce the clearest and most accurate picture in my mind's eye. 

 

When it comes to things that are further away from me such as maybe 100 m or more away from me. I use clicking of my mouth or clapping of my hands. Then I again  draw on my memory bank to produce an image in my mind’s eye that corresponds  with the sounds that I am hearing as feedback and I have learned to represent certain images. This allows me the opportunity to experience landscapes of my environment which I never thought possible.

 

I think for me I am still very much a beginner. However experiencing so far objects close to me and further afield I'm still trying to wrap my head around what this really means to me. However what I do know is that I'm not feeling restricted or constrained  in any way. In fact, I do feel that I have a true sense of freedom and for me that's  like giving me oxygen to breathe.

 

So at the moment learning flash sonar is one huge incredible adventure for me. I must admit I'm loving every minute of it. What I am discovering most of all is that it is allowing me to break down many boundaries and barriers that I didn't even realise I had. By that I mean Flash sonar was giving me back confidence initially in the  area of mobility. However overtime like many things the confidence that is growing is creeping  into other parts of my life. Where I use to say "I can't do that" or "I don't think my vision will allow me to be able to achieve that." etc my thinking has changed, that's for sure.

 

I now think be on the box. I now have stepped out of my comfort zones in many areas of my life. I now love to challenge myself. Somebody tells me I can't do something I want to know why because I now want to try and work away around it. I no longer use my disability as an excuse for pretty much anything. My thinking has become a lot more positive and I do feel a sense of equality to my sighted peers and I didn't think that was possible.

 

In this magical journey that I'm going through I have discovered travel. So far I have been interstate several times something that I thought I would need a huge amount of assistance for. However I discovered I didn't really need that much assistants I only required a minimal amount and it was fine.

 

My next adventure, this year is to travel overseas  again I didn't think this possible for me, not with my vision loss, until I discovered  echolocation and flash sonar.

I'm not sure where this journey will  end or if it ever will. However what I do know is that  echo location has and is having a profound positive effect on me and for that I'm extremely grateful particularly to everyone that has introduced me to this amazing form of mobility. 

So my thanks and gratitude must first and foremost go to:

Marta Fonmudeh  - O&M at Vision Australia, Enfield        

Daniel Kish - world access for the Blind America and Australia 

Penny Stevenson – O&M at Vision Australia Dandenong